Stories from my little corner of the world, the South. Some are from the present, some from the past...but all are from my heart.

They reflect my thoughts and views, my musing about the world, and each carries with it a bit of my heart
and soul.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Definition of Grace

 Posting something here today in honor of my grandmother because today is her birthday. She died Nov. 2009 at the age of  94.

She was a great source of strength for me and loved me unconditionally, always. I miss her and think of her so much. I miss our "girls day out" that we used to have on Fridays once a month when she was living. I'd go up to the nursing home where she went to live in 2005 and pick her up, then we'd go out to shop (me pushing her around Walmart or the mall in her wheelchair), and then somewhere to have lunch. We'd end the day with a stop at my grandfather's grave for a visit and then back to Baptist visit where I'd give her a manicure and pedicure before I headed back to Fargo where my parents live. 

I wouldn't take ANYTHING for having spent that time with her, every visit was precious, I still visit her in my memories of them.

I wrote this piece about her as part of my newspaper column for the Clinch County News back in 2005 when she turned 90
                      The Definition of Grace

            The year was 1915. Albert Einstein introduced the world to his Theory of Relativity. World War I was being fought in Europe. The British steamship, Lusitania was sunk without warning off the coast of Ireland by a German submarine. 1,198 passengers drowned, including 114 Americans, which would lead to U.S. entry into the conflict.
            Here at home, Woodrow Wilson was president. The average annual income of Americans was $1,267. The average cost of a house was $3,395.  A car could be bought for around $390 and
the one millionth Model T Ford rolled off the assembly line in this year.
            In San Francisco the World’s Fair, dubbed the Panama Pacific International Exposition awed visitors with its innovative displays from around the world. In New York City 25,000 people marched in a suffrage parade demanding that women have the right to vote. The Victor Talking Machine Company introduces a phonograph by Victrola which would lead to an explosion in the production of musical recordings in the next few years.
            In sports, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.  In the entertainment world D.W.Griffith released his technically brilliant Civil War epic, Birth of a Nation.
             Born in 1915 were those who would become later become famous such as Ingrid Bergman, Orson Welles, Frank Sinatra, Muddy Waters and Billie Holiday.
            Also born that year was someone very dear to my family who will be celebrating her ninetieth birthday on February 17th, my grandmother, Louise Sweat.
              I’ve been thinking a lot the last week about what it must be like to be turning ninety. That, in turn, led me to wonder what was going on in the world at that time, hence the short history lesson.
            Of course, many things have changed. Perhaps the only two things the same now as in 1915 is the fact that we are again at war and that the Boston Red Sox won the World Series.
            MaMa has written some of her memories of growing up on the outskirts of Waycross as the youngest of a large family. She was born late to the family, and was much younger than most of her siblings. She admits to being completely spoiled rotten by her doting family. She tell tales of playing in the shade while her mother and older sister picked cotton and of having dresses made and shoes bought for her by her father who couldn’t say no to his youngest daughter.
            I laughed as I’ve read some of her childhood exploits, grown misty-eyed as she described meeting and falling in love with PaPa, and marveled at how she raised five girls on the salary of a preacher and whatever other job PaPa took to provide for the family. It was hard for them, as it was for most others back then. She tells of learning to sew so she could of make underwear for her daughters out of flour sacks and finding cheap bolts of cloth to sew them dresses and skirts for school and church. She and my grandfather worked hard to provide their girls with a good home, a strong faith and much love.
            I suppose if I were to try and describe MaMa in one word, the word be Grace. There are several definitions of grace but the one that most succinctly defines it as it applies to my grandmother is: “A virtue or gift granted by God.”
            Although I’m not much of a religious person, I do believe MaMa’s grace comes from God. I believe her grace and sweet spirit come from her faith which has helped her through difficult times. I have seen, in her, someone who is a true Christian without feeling a need for any fanfare about it.  Her actions, her demeanor, her life as lived for the past seventy years or so since she was saved have been proof positive of her faith.
            An even better description of the word grace as it applies to MaMa is a quote by William Hazitt: “Grace has been defined as the outward expression of the inward harmony of the soul.” And that is most definitely how my grandmother expresses such a sweet grace that those around her cannot help but love and admire her.
            This past year has been a trying one for MaMa and for those of us who love her. After several years of declining health, she was no longer able to stay in her home. After much deliberations and at the advice of her doctor, the decision was made to put her in Baptist Village.
            This past September as my momma and I took her over to Waycross for her admission, we were all three extremely sad. For my mother, who has taken such good care of her for the past several years,  it was devastating. For MaMa, it was a complete change in her lifestyle and a little scary.  As for me, well I remember crying most of the way home on my drive back to Gainesville.
            But we shouldn’t have fretted so much because MaMa adjusted magnificently to her new home. She, in a very short time of her arrival, had won over the nursing staff and her roommate with her amiable personality. Her sweet spirit has made her many new friends. These days she enjoys the daily interaction with people her own age and participating in various activities like crafts, bingo and, to our utter amazement, bowling! You see, she had never bowled before now.
            I suppose, the way my grandmother is can best be summed up by one of the nursing aides the last time I was there for a visit.
           She came in to bring a cup of ice and spontaneously bent down to give MaMa a kiss on the forehead and a quick hug. Looking at me she smiled and said, “You know there’s something about Mrs. Sweat, you just can’t help but love her.”
            I just smiled and nodded. It’s something I’ve always known.

Rose S Williams
MaMa at her 82nd birthday in 1997

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

And the Winner is...Death.

 I don't know about the rest of you writers out there, but I've certainly had my delusions of grandeur at one time or another. I suppose it's a natural progression when you spend a lot of time writing your heart out, you hope for an audience to read and show some recognition of what you're trying to achieve with your words. 

What I was writing at the time were short stories, and no matter how I started out, they ended up with the theme of death somewhere in amongst the pages.  Usually, between the first and fourth or fifth page, someone in each story would die, or would be dealing with the death of someone else. 

My Muse obviously had a death obsession and she meant to fulfill it in each story I wrote.

You see, I came to think, that I understood why people avoided made them uncomfortable. And, in my infinite wisdom I began to believe I could compel people to face Death with my stories. Death, that forbidden subject that we all dance around and avoid at all cost...I'd be the one to shine a light on it, I'd MAKE people look at it and confront their fears about it. 

I'd open up a national dialogue (this was in my fantasy where one of the short stories I'd written and submitted was recognized for it superior writing and I'd be offered a book deal to publish all my stories). 

Oprah would love my book and choose it for her book club, people would then clamor to buy the book, it'd be the topic of in-depth book club discussions, and finally, America would no longer be afraid to face death squarely and meet it with dignity and understanding. 

Remember, I did say this was a fantasy, so cut me some slack. I was quite serious about it, about what I hoped I could achieve if someone read my work. I worked hard on my stories. Being steeped in the lore and storied history of Southern writers, I fancied myself an heir to that glorious past. There was little doubt to anyone who read them that my stories were supremely southern, in setting, characterization, and dialect. It's the only way I know to write, there's no artificial affectations in what I was doing. My stories came from my past, my heart, and my very southern soul. 

After a bit, I started to think about how the stories could be a collection and decided I needed to think of a title. One day it came to me as clear as a bell, the book title would so obvious: Life and Death with a Southern Accent. I even had a vision in my head of a drawing for the cover, the exact order of the stories, and some wording for the foreword. In my vivid imagination, it all seemed to be perfect.  All I needed was to get that one story published and recognized.

 I thought I had it all figured out. It'd take time and perseverance, but I could handle that. I'd write, edit, submit, get rejected...and then start the process all over again. I had faith in myself and figured eventually it would happen for me. I might be 65 before it did, but it WOULD happen.

 That all seems so long ago, and so juvenile. Funny how time changes everything. 

 Time, and a personal visit from Death, makes all the difference in the world.

I had no idea, a year ago, how completely my life, and the lives of my family, would be forever changed. I suppose, if we had any clue as to how little we knew, and how tenuous our understanding of Life and Death really is, we'd probably never get out of bed in the morning. 

When Death came to our family last June, we were completely unprepared. Nothing I'd written or read or seen helped me understand how enormous, and final, the loss would be. We were blissfully unaware until it steps foot in our doorway.

It seemed like a normal Saturday morning, I'd gone to drop off one of our little dogs to be trimmed. Afterwards, while I was running errands, my momma called me on my cell phone. When I think of it now, I'm amazed at the control in her voice. I had no clue that the news she was about to divulge was so monumental. 

She casually asked, "Is Wayne there, I need to talk to him?"

I answered, "No ma'am, I'm not at home, I'm running errands. Did you call his cell? He's outside working on that bathroom window he's going to replace, but he should have his phone on him."

She said okay and hung up. I left the parking lot and headed to the bank to take out some money. I had a manicure and pedicure scheduled for later in the afternoon and needed some money for tips. 

I was completely unaware that at that moment my husband was getting the most horrible news he could ever imagine.

When I got home, as I got out of the car, and I heard this pitiful sobbing. It startled me and sent chills up my spine. It that seemed to be coming from behind the privacy fence at the front of the house. I knew in an instant it was Wayne's voice. He sounded like he was in terrible pain.

Oh my god, I thought, what's wrong? Something is horribly, horribly wrong!  My mind thrashed with horrible possibilities. I jumped to the conclusion that he had fallen off the ladder and was badly hurt. I called his name and rushed to the gate to see if he was alright.

His ashen face and tears frightened me, and he seemed to be hunched over, but he didn't seem to be physically hurt. He was still holding his closed phone in his hand and wiping his eyes with a bandana. 

My rushing adrenaline caused me to sway as I hurried toward him, and I almost stumbled. I demanded to know what was wrong.

He put his hand on my shoulder and in a shaky voice said, "Rose, let's go inside."

Suddenly, I felt more frightened than I ever had been. My guts started churning and I felt a wave of nausea roll over me.  In the far reaches of my mind, I knew Death had come to visit. Someone had died, someone close to us, someone that we both loved dearly. 

 "No!" I shouted. I was suddenly belligerent, angry at what I knew he was going to say. "Tell me what's wrong, tell me now!! I don't want to go inside."

"Rose...please." His spoke barely above a whisper. The pain in his voice and anguish on his face softened me. I started crying.

 I knew it was bad news, I thought immediately that it was Daddy. He had died and Momma had called to tell Wayne so he could let me know.

We stumbled through the garage and into the house. "That was your momma on the phone..." I interrupted him saying, "I know, she called me while I was leaving Pet Supermarket, she said she needed to talk to you." By this time I was shaking all over and starting to cry harder. "Tell me what's wrong!"

Before he could answer I asked. "Is it Daddy?" 

"Sit down, baby. Please, just sit down." 

I sat. 

It felt as if my skin would explode, my heart was pounding, my breath was labored...I couldn't think coherently.

"It's not your daddy." There was a pause as he struggled to say the next words. 

My voice felt raspy as I whispered, "Well who?" I needed to know, but I didn't want to know. If he didn't say it, it wouldn't be true.

 I wished to hold this moment in frozen silence, never to find out what he knew.

"It's Micah, he was in an accident." The statement, spoken as truth, couldn't be accepted as such in my muddled state of mind. I felt my chest constrict, it was almost too painful to breathe.

"Micah? Is he gonna be okay, how bad is it, where's he at, is he at the  hospital...." The words rushed out, I was willing my husband to tell me what I wanted, not what he knew to be true.

"No baby, he's not okay..." His voice broke with tears, and he moved to put his arms around me.

 I started shaking my head before the words even came out of his mouth. I didn't want to hear them, I wouldn't hear them. 

I saw Death standing in the corner of my living room and I screamed: "NO NO NO NO NO NO's a mistake, it's not true, he's okay, he gonna be okay."

But I knew, at that moment, it would never be okay again. And our family, our little family would never, ever be the same again. The rules about everything had changed forever.

Wayne shook his head and told me the horrible truth. Micah, my fourteen year old nephew,  my brother's only son, my parents' only grandson, was dead. 

He and a friend had gone riding on the friend's four-wheeler. Jacob, his friend was driving, and Micah was on the back. Somehow, in some freak sort of way that accidents happen, they ran out of the dirt road they were riding on without stopping and ran into the back wheels of a semi-truck that was going by on the paved road. 

They were both killed instantly.

Death, whom I'd assumed I knew and understood so well that I could to write stories about it, had come to show me I didn't know shit!

I was without any defenses when it came, we all were. It settled in for a long visit as the next week painfully passed and we went through the rituals of death our society expects.
 It didn't come expected, and even invited, the way it had only seven month before when my 94 year old grandmother died. We knew it was coming, we prepared for it. She even asked for it to come so that she could "go home" to be with my grandfather. This was the death we could accept because it was the right time. This was Death on our terms.

But Micah's death was the sneaky kind that's never expected, and never, ever wanted. It's the Death of the young who die in tragic circumstances, and when you hear about it on the news or read it in the paper, you think to sad for the family. 

But you have NO idea what they go through, no idea how completely their worlds change in that few seconds between the before and after of Death.  I had no clue how much it could hurt, how deep grief could take hold of your heart and mind.  

I do know now that Death is the one thing we will never, any of us, completely understand. I was a fool to think I had any inkling about it.

I won't say I'm done with my stories. I may revisit them in the future to read them again, and perhaps do some editing. At some point I may even submit one somewhere again.

 But, I will never presume to know more about Death, than it does. I lost more than I could have ever imagined, and my life will never be the same. Our family is forever changed. 

On June 5th, 2010 I conceded my total incompetence and complete lack of knowledge of most things I thought I knew about Life, in general, and especially about Death. 

I know now, that I know nothing about nothing.

And the winner in all of this, always in the end, is Death.

Rose~Feb. 16th, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Struggle to Control Our Own Little Id

Hidden Mr. Hyde  

In the layers of our souls,
secrets hide never told.
Hidden from all prying eyes
covered here and there with lies.

Secrets we have never shared,
our soul’s dark corners, never bared.
Private places all our own
where seeds of small deceits are sown.

Secluded deep within our hearts,
deceptions we cannot impart.
Masked behind our public faces,
disguised to erase any traces.

Undisclosed these places stay
the dregs and dross of our dismay.
They represent our darker side
Our alter ego.... Mr. Hyde.

Rose S. Williams~1999

Hmm, what to start off with as a first blog? Does it matter, will anyone even see this, and if they do, will they care? Will this first blog turn off some, or perhaps intrigue others? Do I care, should I care? As the title of the blog states my quandary is this: Whatever shall I write? 

I picture Scarlett O'Hara, the quinesential Southern Bell standing there in her billowing, tiered skirts surveying the ruins of what has become her world, fretting over what to do. Then, I see her smile, and that steely glint comes into her emerald eyes as she gets an idea. She won't go down without a fight. Others might not like what she is, but to hell with that. 

To hell with writing what I think I should, why not write what I want! And so, this first blog is born :)

Afer pondering for a bit, I decide to lead into this with the poem above because when it came to me so many years ago, as I was struggling with who I really was. Actually to be truthful, I was struggling more with the newly found concept of who I wasn't. And it was in this realization that the poem was born.

So, inspired by my recent viewing of the 1st season of Dexter (via Netflix on Wii) I decided this poem would suffice to lead into my collection of thoughts here on the darker side of human nature which most of us so desperately try to hide from ourselves and others. 

You know what I mean...that person you are at times that makes you feel guilty, ashamed, and unable to look at yourself in the mirror first thing in the morning. We all know the little gremlin that lives inside of us, but through years of societal shaping of our psyche, we deny it for the better parts of our lives. 

Just for fun, let's give him a name. I think Id is appropriate, don't you? Whenever Id pops up his knotty little head, we shudder as we do or say things that are wrong, and then, for a minute think: Oh, what the hell! I'm tired of being GOOD! We become that darker part of ourselves, ignoring what's expected of us and delving into the seductive instinctual darkness of doing or being what we feel at that moment. We knock the hell out of the cartoon angel on our right shoulder and let Id reign.

 Of course, I'm not saying that I'm hiding some deep, dark secret as nefarious as Dexter---a serial killer I'm not.  Hell, I'm an anomaly of sorts as I, for although I live in the Deep South and grew up around guns and the culture of hunting, I cannot bring myself to kill anything.  Most especially, not Bambi.

So, the hidden dark side I have is nothing like that, but it's there. It's there for all of us. We are all dark creatures that struggle with our "sins", our obsessions, our inability to be good all the time.  As a matter of fact, there's quite the fascination with the dark side in our culture. Americans thrive on the spectacle of oddity and the inability to control oneself. Just look at some of the popular shows people watch: Biggest Loser, Hoarders, Intervention, to name a few. Even The Apprentice is a slice of dark pie, showing the lengths to which those of us with ample ambition and questionable morals will go to in an attempt to be the top dog.

 Or, look at the popularity of the CSI and Law and Order series- we have a macabre need to see the killer that exists at one time or another in us all. We sit fascinated by the morbid obsessions of the serial killer, both awed and terrified by his lack of compassion and his inability to see his victims as individuals. We secretly question if that same darkness could be inside of us.
And even though, thankfully, the majority of us never have the compulsive and destructive nature of such people, we still shy from whatever form the darkness within us takes. Taught to be "good" children, and shaped from infancy by our parents, our teachers, and our peers,  we struggle with the alter ego that lives within us all. 

We are taught, both intentionally and sublimally, that Id is not our friend, he's not even the little red devil sitting on our left shoulder. He is the skulking, instinct-driven Gollum that we refuse to acknowledge into existence. And when he does surface, we are as horrified as we are confused. Where in the hell did this creature come from? And yet, there is a bit of morbid fascination with him, so we gawk as we scrub away our sins with prayers, or meditation. We force him back into that the dark corner of our soul where he belongs. 

But still, we know he's there. And it's even alright that he exists, as long as we only see him in others.

Using Dexter as an example again--look at how we find ourselves rooting for his character. Yes, he is serial killer, BUT, he kills the bad guys (and girls, he doesn't discriminate) he gives them what they deserve. He gives them death, that final judgment that even society can't seem to hand out to them anymore what with all the controversy that surrounds the death penalty. 

We're on his side, we don't want him to be caught, and even if we can watch when he makes a kill (well I can't, at least, except from behind my hands covering my face), we celebrate the darkness that allows him to do the deed. His own internal struggles with who he is, and why he is the way he is, is a bit of insight into our own darkness. 

Therapy works for some, as it did for Dexter, in an episode from the first season. During the sessions  he got a glimpse of why he was the way he was. It was a tiny piece of a complex puzzle that left us wanting more than the two second glimpes into his childhood and some horrific tragedy that warped his psyche, but we felt a glimmer of hope for him...and maybe for ourselves. Perhaps our innate goodness is there, but unless we safely maneuver the treacherous waters of childhood without drowning, or at least being occasionally held under against our will, we too will become warped, defective, or at the very worst saturated with the darkness that lurks beneath our surface.

For many, there's no money or inclination for therapy. And in truth, therapy doesn't work for everyone. So for many people, their obsessions, compulsions, and addictions take hold and thwart any attempt to become or remain normal. Whatever their vices are, be it alcohol, drugs, sex, tendencies to hoard possessions or animals, any number of problems all become part of who the person is. Struggling with an addiction while trying to maintain a job, relationship or simply surviving the various landmines that daily Life throws our way is near impossible. Hell, even without the cinder block of addictions tied around our necks, Life can be incredibly difficult and tiring.

So how do we traverse the delicate path that is Life? How do we not succumb, how do we maintain a modicum of normalcy amidst the darkness that lurks there amongst our thoughts and deeds? Will it blind us to look into the dark light long enough to realize its value, it's intrinsic worth to our own humanity? Can we live with the dual nature of our souls, the good and bad parts that are both necessary? The term necessary evil comes to mind at this point. If there was no darkness to human nature, how would we truly value to goodness to be found? 

As humans, we probably wouldn't.

Dexter is told by the therapist to embrace his dark side, for then he will no longer fear it and will be freed from his fear of being discovered. Perhaps that's the answer we should ponder and embrace: Acknowledging and accepting that we are infallible, we may yet survive with our wits and dignity intact. Yes, we will struggle from the day we are born until the day we die to keep the dark at bay and let our good qualities prevail.

For some, the struggle will be epic and insurmountable. For others, still a struggle, but obtainable . For all it will be balance between the light and dark, between positive choices and negative influences, between knowing in our heart what is right and having the will and decency to act upon it. But, we will prevail precisely because we acknowledge the darkness that exists, and refuse to succumb to it. Acknowledging is not succumbing. 

In my humble opinion, knowing that difference is how we keep our Id contained.